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Series / Phoenix (1992)
aka: Phoenix

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"You know what they're calling us? Phoenix. Operation bloody Phoenix."
Senior Sergeant Lochie Renford

Phoenix is an Australian police drama television series. Phoenix screened as two thirteen-part series on The ABC 1992 and 1993.

The first series in 1992 recounted the investigation of a car bomb that kills two police officers, loosely based on a real case in the mid-1980s, the Russell Street Bombing. It was aided by extensive research into police techniques and was lauded as one of the most realistic depictions of police investigation techniques, including both surveillance and forensics, as well as having an involving storyline.

It spawned a second thirteen-part series, Phoenix II, in 1993 as well as a spin-off series, Janus, in 1994 devoted to the machinations of court cases.

The show also featured an award winning soundtrack.

Tropes used in Phoenix:

  • Armed Blag: Phoenix II involves the investigation into several "ag burgs" (aggravated burglaries) of senior citizens.
  • Booby Trap: The carbomb was fused to set off a minor explosion first to draw the police to the car, whereupon the bigger bomb would go off. Fortunately the bomb makers are amateurs and the whole lot goes off at once.
  • Captain Obvious: Justified Trope. Some hours into the investigation, Inspector Jock Brennan asks his forensic scientist what he's come up with.
    The Goose: We know it was a bomb, and it was planted in that car.
    Jock: (quietly) You having me on?
    The Goose: No...
    Jock: There was a bomb in that car... It's taken you all this time to work that out?!
    The Goose: Yes, as a certainty. I mean, it might have been an artillery shell... It might have been a bomb planted in a manhole under the car... I mean the car might have had nothing to do with the bomb—there are all sorts of alternatives to the obvious.
  • Cliffhanger: The first episode "Top Quality Crims" covers the investigation and conviction of a gang of robbers. At the end of the episode Inspector Brennan takes time off to attend a police social event, only to get knocked to the ground when the car bomb goes off. The rest of the season covers the investigation to find out who planted it there.
  • Cop Killer: Season One of Phoenix involves the investigation into a car bomb that exploded outside a police social event, killing two police officers. Janus begins with the acquittal of several members of the Hennessy family for killing two policemen during a bungled bank heist. The authorities then have to find evidence of some other crime to charge them with so they won't escape justice.
  • Debut Queue: Megan Edwards (as The Profiler) and Laz Carides (for his firsthand knowledge of the Melbourne underworld) are only brought into the Major Crime Squad after Operation Phoenix commences.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Given the era no-one in Major Crimes thinks anything of casual homophobic comments. Analyst Megan Edwards and forensic scientist Carol Cochrane have to put up with sexism from their male colleagues, while Laz Carides gets a lot of ethnic slurs over his Greek-Australian heritage.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Megan is mocked by Lochie when she has a fender-bender accident after a spider drops out of the sun visor in front of her. At the end of the episode Lochie hands her a can of bug spray and declares he's not going near that car until "that horrible monster" has been killed.
  • Elevator Conference: The show used this trope so much, viewers joked it was Product Placement for Otis Elevators.
  • External Combustion: The criminals who plant the bomb are amateurs who use a Time Bomb set-up so crude the forensic scientist is surprised they didn't blow themselves up driving there. This is foreshadowed when an ex-IRA terrorist is brought in for questioning, and he says he'd never use a car bomb for an open area like that, but a mortar shell fired from the next street.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: At the end of Phoenix II the Major Crime Squad is disbanded because it has caused so many complaints, with Sgt. Faithful transferred to Public Relations. He's back in Janus but ends up under investigation again after a controversial police shooting (and worse, the Hennessey's are allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge for fear the investigation will cause the case against them to collapse).
  • Ignored Expert:
    • At the start of the investigation Inspector Brennan butts heads with the insubordinate Goose and tries to get him replaced with a proper bomb expert. Everyone has a laugh at his expense when Goose turns out to be the leading authority in the entire country in post-blast analysis.
    • Megan Edwards has a hell of the problem getting the detectives (with the exception of her friend Laz) to share information with her so she can do her job properly.
    Laz: I'm the only one who even talks to you. You're their analyst for Christ's sake!
  • Important Haircut: Undercover cop Laz Carides is reluctant to give up his independence to become a member of the suit-and-tie-wearing Major Crimes squad. His eventual acceptance of his new role is shown when he cuts off his (much commented on) ponytail.
  • Internal Affairs: The Major Crimes Division is constantly butting heads with the Victorian Police Internal Investigation Division, nicknamed the 'toecutters' (after a notorious Melbourne gang which tortured people by cutting their toes off). Unsurprising as this Ripped from the Headlines series was made at a time when the Victorian police were catching a lot of flack for their methods, especially police shootings (explored particularly in the Law Procedural spin-off Janus). Ironically, Jock Brennan, who leads the Major Crimes investigation in the first season, returns as an internal affairs investigator later on, showing not the least bit of sympathy for his former colleagues.
  • Killer Cop: The very first suspect the Major Crimes Squad is ordered to investigate is a police officer who allegedly made a threat to blow up the building. It turns out the whole thing was an argument blown out of proportion, and the officer had nothing to do with the bombing. Ironically the police rank-and-file are as willing to believe the rumor as anyone.
  • Kinder and Cleaner: Downplayed. As a gritty depiction of police work Phoenix has plenty of swearing, but later seasons had some of the language obscured by sounds like passing traffic, presumably as a result of viewer complaints.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: In "A Dog's Life", actor Tony Poli (playing Laz) enters a locker room wearing a towel for what seems to be the usual Walking Shirtless Scene until he removes the towel for a brief moment while facing the camera. Female viewers wrote in to The ABC feedback show Backchat to express their approval.
  • Nom de Guerre: The members of Major Crimes are routinely referred to by their nicknames, e.g. Peter "Noddy" Faithful, Andrew "Fluff" Saunders, "Laz" Carides and Ian "The Goose" Cochrane.
    Noddy: Fluff, dump the Goose, back up the Dogs—Flannigan's going after Baz!
  • Non-Indicative First Episode: The first episode "Top Quality Crims" involves the Major Crime Squad hunting a family-based gang of bank robbers (which would be explored in detail in the spin-off Janus). This makes it look like the series will follow a Villain of the Week format like other cop shows. At the end of the episode however the carbomb explodes, and trying to find out who did it is the subject of the rest of the season.
  • Overt Rendezvous: The head of Major Crime Division meets the head of the Drug Squad in the park to discuss an undercover operation.
    "Jesus, what do we look like? Two bloody old poofs holding hands, sucking their ice creams. Is there a pub nearby?"
  • Police Procedural: But combined with Forensic Drama long before CSI took off. In fact an ongoing theme in Season One is Megan and The Goose trying to get the Major Crime Squad to take forensic and criminal analysis seriously.
  • The Squadette: A plot point; Megan Edwards, the only female member of the Major Crime Squad, is the unit's analyst. As a result she has a problem getting the detectives to take her (and by extension her job) seriously.
  • SWAT Team: The Special Operation Group, or "Soggies". Unfortunately even to deploy them requires high-level authorization after several controversial incidents. Given that the Majors are hunting down known copkillers, no-one's happy about the top brass dragging their feet.
    "'We have reason to believe' doesn't cut much ice at coronial inquests these days, Inspector."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The series was inspired by the 1986 Russell Street bombing, but outside of the explosion and the investigative techniques used, it bears very little resemblance to the actual case.

Tropes used in Janus:

  • Amoral Attorney: Downplayed with barrister Michael Kidd who might be a bit sleazy but is a Consummate Professional just doing his job.
  • Armed Blag: The series involves the investigation and prosecution of the Hennesseys, a family of criminals involved in armed bank robbery.
  • Better than Sex: Axe-Crazy bank robber Mal Hennessy is caught on tape bragging that the moment he shot a police officer was "like getting your first head job". Unfortunately he gets Off on a Technicality, but later a police prosecutor happens on an old homicide case where a witness overheard someone saying this while dumping a body, and realises that Mal must have been the culprit.
  • Cutlery Escape Aid: A criminal escapes from a prison van using a can opener to cut his way through the roof. When a viewer wrote in to complain that this was unrealistic, it was pointed out that this was based on a real incident.
  • Evil Matriarch: Shirl Hennessey (based on real-life criminal Kath Pettingill; known as Granny Evil, head of a notorious Melbourne criminal family).
  • Get into Jail Free: At one point Shirl Hennessey is so tired of her crazy family she's willing to go to jail rather than fight the charges when she's arrested carrying a concealed weapon. She tells Michael Kidd that she doesn't have money to pay him, so he offers to defend her for free, leading to an amusing scene where she has to repeatedly stop Kidd in court as he tries to get the sentence reduced.
  • Law Procedural: Unlike Phoenix, the spin-off focuses on the legal side.
  • Not What It Looks Like: After one of the Hennessy's commits Suicide by Cop, the detective who shot him, while still in shock, picks up the gun to see if it was a replica firearm. Faithful takes it off him and puts it back in place. Unfortunately a member of the public saw this and so it looks like the police planted a gun to make the shooting justified. It doesn't help that Faithful left this interference in a crime scene out of his initial report to avoid embarrassing the detective.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: Averted. Although the police detectives despise barrister Michael Kidd for successfully defending the cop-killing Hennessy family, the main detective protagonist doesn't hesitate to recommend Kidd to a fellow officer who'd been falsely accused of police brutality.
  • Trouble Entendre: Barrister Michael Kidd informs Mal Hennessey that the police have intercepted a message he sent asking a fellow criminal to "put the handbrake" on a key witness. Kidd sarcastically points out that a jury will have no trouble working out what that means.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The series was inspired by Melbourne's Pettingill crime family, and the controversial Walsh Street police shootings.

Alternative Title(s): Phoenix